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Posts Tagged ‘Republican Party’

What Happened the Last Time Republicans Had a Majority This Huge? They lost it.

Josh Zeitz

Politico.com    November 15, 2014

Since last week, many Republicans have been feeling singularly nostalgic for November 1928, and with good reason. It’s the last time that the party won such commanding majorities in the House of Representatives while also dominating the Senate. And, let’s face it, 1928 was a good time.

America was rich—or so it seemed. Charles Lindbergh was on the cover of Time. Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Jean Lussier went over Niagara Falls in a rubber ball (thus trumping the previous year’s vogue for flagpole sitting). Mickey Mouse made his first appearance in a talkie (“Steamboat Willie”). Irving Aaronson and His Commanders raised eyebrows with the popular—and, for its time, scandalous—song, “Let’s Misbehave,” and presidential nominee Herbert Hoover gave his Democratic opponent, Al Smith, a shellacking worthy of the history books.

The key takeaway: It’s been a really, really long time since Republicans have owned Capitol Hill as they do now.

But victory can be a fleeting thing. In 1928, Republicans won 270 seats in the House. They were on top of the world. Two years later, they narrowly lost their majority. Two years after that, in 1932, their caucus shrunk to 117 members and the number of Republican-held seats in the Senate fell to just 36. To borrow the title of a popular 1929 novel (which had nothing whatsoever to do with American politics): Goodbye to all that.

A surface explanation for the quick rise and fall of the GOP House majority of 1928 is the Great Depression. As the party in power, Republicans owned the economy, and voters punished them for it. In this sense, today’s Republicans have no historical parallel to fear. Voters—at least a working majority of the minority who turned out last week—clearly blame Barack Obama for the lingering aftershocks of the recent economic crash.

But what if the Republicans of 1928 owed their demise to a more fundamental force? What if it was demography, not economics, that truly killed the elephant?

In fact, the Great Depression was just one factor in the GOP’s stunning reversal of fortune, and in the 1930 cycle that saw Republicans lose their commanding House majority it was probably a minor factor. To be sure, the Republicans of yesteryear were victims of historical contingency (the Great Depression), but they also failed to appreciate and prepare for a long-building trend—the rise of a new urban majority comprised of over 14 million immigrants, and many millions more of their children. Democrats did see the trend, and they built a majority that lasted half a century.

The lesson for President Obama and the Democrats is to go big—very, very big—on immigration reform. Like the New Dealers, today’s Democrats have a unique opportunity to build a majority coalition that dominates American politics well into the century.

***

For the 1928 GOP House majority, victory was unusually short-lived. About one in five GOP House members elected in the Hoover landslide served little more than a year and a half before losing their seats in November 1930.

On a surface level, the Great Depression was to blame.

The stock market crash of October 1929 destroyed untold wealth. Shares in Eastman Kodak plunged from a high of $264.75 to $150. General Electric, $403 to $168.13. General Motors, $91.75 to $33.50. In the following months, millions of men and women were thrown out of work. Tens of thousands of businesses shut their doors and never reopened.

But in the 1920s—before the rise of pensions and 401Ks, college savings accounts and retail investment vehicles—very few Americans were directly implicated in the market. Moreover, in the context of their recent experience, the sudden downtick of 1929-1930 was jarring but not altogether unusual. Hoover later recalled that “for some time after the crash,” most businessmen simply did not perceive “that the danger was any more than that of run-of-the-mill, temporary slumps such as had occurred at three-to-seven year intervals in the past.”

By April 1930, stocks had recouped 20 percent of lost value and seemed on a steady course to recovery. Bank failures, though vexing, were occurring at no greater a clip than the decade’s norm. Yes, gross national product fell 12.6 percent in just one year, and roughly 8.9 percent of able-bodied Americans were out of work. But events were not nearly as dire as in 1921, when a recession sent GNP plunging 24 percent and 11.9 percent of workers were unemployed.

In fact, Americans in the Jazz Age were accustomed to a great deal of economic volatility and risk exposure. It was the age of Scott and Zelda, Babe Ruth, the Charleston, Clara Bow and Colleen Moore—the Ford Model T and the radio set. But it was also an era of massive wealth and income inequality. In these days before the emergence of the safety net—before unemployment and disability insurance—most industrial workers expected to be without work for several months of each year. For farm workers, the entire decade was particularly unforgiving, as a combination of domestic over-production and foreign competition drove down crop prices precipitously.

In hindsight, we know that voters in November 1930 were standing on the edge of a deep canyon. But in the moment, hard times struck many Americans as a normal, cyclical part of their existence.

Unsurprisingly, then, many House and local races in 1930 hinged more on cultural issues—especially on Prohibition, which in many districts set “wet” Democrats against “dry” Republicans—than economic ones.

If the Depression was not a singular determinant in the 1930 elections, neither had Herbert Hoover yet acquired an undeserved reputation for callous indifference to human suffering. Today, we think of Hoover as the laissez-faire foil to Franklin Roosevelt’s brand of muscular liberalism. But in 1930, Hoover was still widely regarded as a progressive Republican who, in his capacity as U.S. relief coordinator, saved Europe from starvation during World War I. When he was elected president, recalled a prominent journalist, we “were in a mood for magic … We had summoned a great engineer to solve our problems for us; now we sat back comfortably and confidently to watch problems being solved.”

In 1929 and 1930, Hoover acted swiftly to address what was still a seemingly routine economic emergency. He jawboned business leaders into maintaining job rolls and wages. He cajoled the Federal Reserve System into easing credit. He requested increased appropriations for public works and grew the federal budget to its largest-ever peacetime levels. In most contemporary press accounts, he had not yet acquired the stigma of a loser.

Still, in 1930 Hoover’s party took a beating. Republicans lost eight seats in the Senate and 52 seats in the House. By the time the new House was seated in December 1931, several deaths and vacancies resulted in a razor-thin Democratic majority.

If the election was not exclusively or even necessarily about economics, the same cannot be said of the FDR’s historic landslide two years later. As Europe plunged headlong into the Depression in 1931 and 1932, the American banking and financial system all but collapsed. With well over 1,000 banks failing each year, millions of depositors lost their life savings. By the eve of the election, more than 50 percent of American workers were unemployed or under-employed.

In response to the crisis, Hoover broke with decades of Republican economic orthodoxy. He stepped up work on the Boulder Dam and Grand Coulee Dam (popular lore notwithstanding, these were not first conceived as New Deal projects). He signed legislation outlawing anti-union (“yellow dog”) clauses in work agreements. And he chartered the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a government-sponsored entity that loaned money directly to financial institutions, railroads and agricultural stabilization agencies, thereby helping them maintain liquidity. The RFC was in many ways the first New Deal agency, though Herbert Hoover pioneered it. Even the editors of the New Republic, among the president’s sharpest liberal critics, admitted at the time, “There has been nothing quite like it.”

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The Two Legacies of Richard Nixon that Shaped the Modern Republican Party

HNN    August 17, 2014

 

The fortieth anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency last week passed without much attention to the question of the former president’s historical significance and his role in the history of the modern Republican party. Twenty years after his death, it is apparent that Nixon shaped the political world in which we now live, and the last fifty years of the twentieth century are properly seen as The Age of Nixon. In race relations and the fundamental beliefs of the modern Republican party, Nixon was a more consequential historical figure than Ronald Reagan.

In the 1950s, Nixon was sympathetic to African-American aspirations and was someone who impressed Martin Luther King with his understanding of the civil rights impulse. The 1960 election changed all that as black voters helped put John Kennedy in the White House. Convinced that the election had been stolen from him, Nixon said of African-American support of Democrats, “it’s a bought vote and it isn’t bought by civil rights.” From there, even though his administration enforced civil rights laws, it was a short step to the Southern Strategy that turned the states of the Confederacy from Democratic to Republican over the next three decades.  Nixon, through aides like Pat Buchanan, reinforced the Republican commitment to white voters that underpins so much of the Republican opposition to President Obama.

As Nixon told a friend after the 1960 election, “we won, but they stole it from us.”  Contrary to the portrait of patriotic self-denial and deference to the election of John F. Kennedy that Nixon later proffered, he and the Republicans were quite prepared to contest Kennedy’s success until they knew there was no case that would withstand scrutiny. Yet the lesson that Nixon took away from 1960 was not that politics was like war, in which victory justifies all.

In that insight lay the roots of Watergate. Presidents could not, in Nixon’s mind commit illegal acts. Faced with a Democratic Party whose tactics impaired its dubious legitimacy, the Republicans should stop at nothing to achieve and maintain power. Entering the White House in January 1969, Nixon saw himself surrounded by enemies bent on his political annihilation. It was only right in such a dangerous political environment to meet fire with fire, criminality with criminality, dirty tricks with similar tactics.

The Watergate generation saw in Nixon’s methods violations of the Constitution that led to his resignation. But in time the assumption grew among Republicans that Nixon had been right all along. Nixon might believe that Democrats had more fun than Republicans did, and for a time he toyed with the idea of a new political party. In that he emulated Dwight D. Eisenhower and Modern Republicanism. Yet in his heart of hearts Nixon believed that the Democrats were the Other in American politics, a criminal enterprise that abused the rules of partisan behavior for selfish ends. They did not deserve fair play, which was only for suckers in public life.

The lesson stuck. Watergate had not been a moment of constitutional truth. Impeachment was a tactic that Republicans could deploy, first against Bill Clinton, and now against President Obama. Nixon taught that only Republicans had a true commitment to American values and therefore the only viable and defensive claim on fundamental legitimacy in American life. In the universe of Richard Nixon, only the winning side had the luxury of moral values. Commitment to democratic practices was only a sham that the true political sophisticates adhered to only at their peril. His disciples abound. They restrict voting of minorities, they filibuster everything, they gerrymander with abandon, they deny medical care even though people die as a result.

Nixon famously invoked a sign he had seen while campaigning, “Bring us together,” it read. It made for good rhetoric, but in his career he was the architect of two policies that are still tearing the country apart. His belief that politics is actually war demands perpetual battle with unconditional surrender as the only sensible goal at hand, whereas his fealty to the southern strategy, which dictates the exclusion of fast-growing minorities, questions the very survivability of his own party. These are the dilemmas that the United States now contemplates as it ponders the legacy of Richard Milhous Nixon.

Lewis L. Gould, visiting distinguished professor at Monmouth College, is the author of “The Republicans: A History of the Grand Old Party,” which the Oxford University Press will publish next month.

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This Is How Racist America Was During the Civil War

HNN August 1, 2014

During the Civil War, many New York City newspapers were closely aligned with the anti-war, pro-Southern wing of the Democratic Party. Republicans called them “Copperheads” after the venomous snakes that originate in the area that had become the Confederacy. Their hatred of Abraham Lincoln was probably only surpassed by their virulent racism and hatred of Black Americans. Their pages were filled with racially offensive language that would be blipped out on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and most newspapers today are hesitant about printing. I use the word “nigger” in this op ed. I do not use it lightly and I will only use it when quoting directly from newspaper articles from the era. I do not believe it is possible to convey the depth of racism in Northern society during the Civil War era without using this inflammatory and defamatory term.

In 1864 the Daily News was accused of receiving payments from Confederate agents to promote anti-war rallies in New York City and it inflamed racial tension by claiming that racial mixing or miscegenation was the “doctrine and dogma” of the Republican Party. The editorial page of the Weekly Day-Book, which from October 1861 to October 1863 was known as The Caucasian, carried the banner “White Men Must Rule America.”

In the months leading up to the July 1863 Draft Riots, John Mullaly, editor of the Roman Catholic Church’s newspaper, Metropolitan Record, called for armed resistance. At a Union Square rally May 19, 1863, Mullaly declared “the war to be wicked, cruel and unnecessary, and carried on solely to benefit the negroes, and advised resistance to conscription if ever the attempt should be made to enforce the law.” Following the July Draft riots, Mullaly was indicted for “inciting resistance to the draft.”

In its August 23, 1863 issue, the Herald, which had the largest circulation in the country, predicted that the Republican Party would eventually nominate and unite behind Abraham Lincoln when it realized he was the person “predestined and foreordained by Providence to carry on the war, free the niggers, and give all of the faithful a share of the spoils.” On October 7, 1863, the Herald described the Ohio gubernatorial election as a battle to decide “whether the copperheads or the niggerheads are more obnoxious to the great conservative body of the people.”

The 1864 Presidential election provided the Copperhead press an opportunity to express open, casual, and nasty racism. A key figure was journalist David Goodman Croly, who at one time or another worked for the New York Evening Post, the Herald, and the World. Croly helped to anonymously produce one of the more avowedly racist attacks on Republicans and African Americans produced during the Civil War, a 72-page pamphlet titled “Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the White Man and the Negro.” The pamphlet charged that the Civil War was a war of “amalgamation” with the goal of “blending of the white and black,” starting with the intermixing of Negroes and Irish.

Many newspapers, including the World, argued the pamphlet was the work of abolitionists and represented their actual program, rather than an attempt to undermine abolition. The New York Freeman’s Journal & Catholic Register, a “peace at any cost” Democratic Party newspaper closely aligned with Fernando Wood, claimed that the “beastly doctrine of the intermarriage of black men and white women” had been “encouraged by the President of the United States” and that “filthy black niggers” were mingling with “white people and even ladies everywhere, even at the President’s levees.”

The editors of the New York Times, were eventually sucked in by the fraud. In a March 19, 1864 editorial, they wrote, “We regret to learn from numerous sources that we are on the point of witnessing intermarriage on a grand scale between the whites and blacks of this Republic. It has, as most of our readers are aware, been long held by logicians of the Democratic school, that once you admit the right of a negro to the possession of his own person, and the receipt of his own wages, you are bound either to marry his sister, or give your daughter in marriage to his son. The formula into which this argument has always been thrown was this: If all blacks are fit to be free every white man is bound to marry a black: ‘Niggers’ are blacks: Therefore every white man is bound to marry a ‘nigger.’ ”

A week later, on March 26, 1864, a Times editorial stated: “we have no hesitation in saying that if we had at the outset conceived it possible that hostility to Slavery would ever have led to wholesale intermarriage with negroes, or of all marriageable Republicans and their sisters, that party should never have received any countenance or support from this journal. We owe it to ourselves and posterity to say that the odious matrimonial arrangements, into which so many of those whose opinions on certain great questions of public policy we have hitherto shared, have taken us wholly by surprise.”

By March 30, 1864 the Times had realized it was a victim of a hoax. “Trusting entirely, as we stated at the time, to the assertions of the Copperhead press, we have made mention of sundry movements alleged to be in process for the more wide-spread diffusion of the new political gospel of Miscegenation . . .  [T]he Copperhead newspapers have been spreading false reports, which is scarcely conceivable.” However, not only did the paper not apologize for its racism, but it complained “[t]he Copperheads are responsible for this state of things. They have aroused the whole colored community, by their highly-colored pictures of the connubial fate that awaits them at Republican hands, to a state of intense excitement.”

Given the virulent racism of the anti-war Copperhead Democrats and the still open racism of both the pro-war Democrats and Unionist Republicans in New York City and the north, it is amazing that slavery in the United States ended at all. Emancipation was a tribute to the doggedness of abolitionists, Black and White, the need for Black manpower for the North to win the war, and major miscalculations by Southern secessionists who mistakenly exaggerated Northern opposition to slavery and support for Black rights.

Alan Singer is a historian and Professor of Secondary Education at Hofstra University, author of “New York and Slavery: Time to Teach the Truth” (2008), and editor of the “New York and Slavery: Complicity and Resistance” curriculum that received the 2005 National Council for the Social Studies program of excellence award.  This piece was written with research assistance from Joseph Palaia, graduate student, Hofstra University.

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